Sarajevans rejoiced Friday in the freedom of their spirit with the first folk festival of the 28-month siege of their city.
"This is another way for us to fight and resist," said Deputy Mayor Ante Zelic as about a dozen troupes of brightly clad dancers kicked off a two-day celebration of traditional Balkan dancing."Nothing can destroy our love of everything in Sarajevo," he told the opening ceremony in the National Theater, the focal point of Sarajevo's varied theater and musical life before the war.
Just as the brightly colored plants adorning burned-out balconies symbolize the Sarajevans' refusal to be bombed out of their homes, so the festival stands as testimony to their determination to keep up their morale.
"This is something from our souls," said Sanela Mandic, a member of the First National Folklore Ensemble.
"We have been dancing for years, and we continued to risk our lives to go to rehearsals during the shelling," said the 19-year-old English student, wearing a long, bright-orange skirt and golden sequins in her hair.
The dancers and musicians, performing ancient Bosnian love songs and exotic Balkan melodies, aim to perform on streets throughout the city. The event is the first of its kind since the war started in April 1992.
Serbs have been forced to pull back heavy weapons from around the battered capital and stop the random sniping that terrorized inhabitants. The government estimates 10,000 people have been killed in Sarajevo alone during the war.
Despite the relative calm, people remember past massacres and remain wary about making themselves easy targets by gathering in crowds. Performers were clearly nervous as they wound down a street toward the river, exposed to Serb positions on the overlooking hills.
Some spectators hanging out of office windows seemed bewildered at the unaccustomed spectacle. But most were delighted.
"It means a lot to me because it represents a bit of normality," said Zekija Gacanovic, standing with her 11-year-old daughter by a plastic wreath commemorating the 20 victims of the May 1992 mortar attack.